Book Review: The Snow Child

While it may be a stretch to imagine a blissfully white snowfall in the middle of the hot, humid southern summer, at least try. For those who pick up The Snow Child, prepare to be subtly carried away to the Alaskan frontier in the 1920s.
Isolated in the Alaskan wilderness with winter’s hold tightening around them, homesteaders Mabel and Jack remind themselves that they chose this life. What else could they chose? Back east, Jack’s family members had snickered behind Mabel’s back. She was never good enough; couldn’t bake bread, had never farmed, and certainly didn’t know how to hitch a horse to a plow. Perhaps that is why the baby she carried in her womb didn’t survive. Perhaps Mabel wasn’t strong enough to be a mother, or even a wife.
Thoughts of inferiority led Mabel to the banks of the wild Wolverine River. It was frozen in a few parts. Soon enough though, it would be frozen through and through. But Mabel was impatient. She didn’t want to wait. She was careful not to slip but at the very same time, prayed she would fall and be swallowed by the ravaging waters.
Author Eowyn Ivey has readers spellbound in the first few chapters. There are hints of miscarriages, potential suicides, family discord, marital strife, starting over, persevering, friendships, and helpers.
“Surely, everyone can identify with something in this story,” offered one reader who highly recommends the 2012 book.
In an uncharacteristic way, Mabel and Jack delight at the first significant snowfall of the season and bound outside their moderate cabin to experience Mother Nature’s delivery. They are immediately entranced. Exquisite, unique snowflakes stick to their eyelashes and tickle their noses.
Under the light of the full moon, the two begin to build, not a snowman, but a snow child. Mabel donated her red gloves and scarf to adorn the icy beauty. They were a gift from her sister back east.
Jack retrieved a bundle of yellow grass from near the barn. He shaped the snow child’s face and added the straw in a wild array to serve as hair. Mabel wished the night didn’t have to end but the sub-zero temperatures highly influenced their choice to return to their cabin warmed by the woodstove.
The next morning, the snow child is no longer adorned with the scarf and mittens. Eventually, the items are spotted in the dense woods being worn by a frail, stringy haired blonde girl who resembles a snow fairy.
Mabel and Jack are too old for games and make-believe. But their hearts still long for the child lost. Could there ever be an opportunity for a child’s voice to fill the deafening silence of the cabin? Mabel and Jack moved to Alaska for a fresh start, to escape and explore. Yet the grief of a baby lost cannot be absorbed. It must be endured.
And so the story unfolds with Faina, the snow child, paying unexpected visits to Mabel and Jack. She appears and disappears in seemingly rhythm with the snow fall. She moves higher up the mountains when the weather warms in the spring. She cannot be confined.
As Jack frets and worries about his wife’s mental stability, physical stature, and how they will make ends meet, tragedy strikes. Mabel is forced to rise to the occasion.
Unrefined yet lovable neighbor (in the Alaskan frontier, a neighbor is someone who lives within 10-20 miles.) Ethel, her husband, and three boys barge into the cabin, assume the roles of farming the disagreeable land, and nurse Jack back to health.
It’s during this time that fate finds Ethel’s nearly grown son in the woods running his traps. What the young man spies is the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen. It’s the mysterious snow child, the one in whom he did not believe. But she is real, and his encounter with her changes everything.
Written in a way that explores life, death, tragedy, and love in such inextricable ways is a gift of sheer talent. This novel is an exploration of the seasons of human life as well as human nature.
There is death and grieving, just as there is life and celebrating. There is mourning for a mother’s milk that is spilled to the ground, and there is celebrating relationships with friends gathered around a bountiful meal. The Snow Child touches on the ebb and flow of life, and reminds us of the certainty of change.